Responding to news that “New Charter” has agreed to invest $32.5 million in digital inclusion programs in California, the Coalition for Broadband Equity sent a letter last Friday to Federal Communications Chairman Thomas Wheeler asking that the Commission insist on similar investments throughout the service territory affected by the proposed Charter/Time Warner merger, as a condition of allowing the deal to go through.
The Coalition’s letter says, in part:
Of course we’re delighted that digital inclusion advocates in the state in question, empowered by a local regulatory process, have been able to persuade the Applicants to commit to a reasonable investment in community outreach and training to ensure the success of their proposed low-income Internet plan.
But we cannot imagine any rationale by which the Commission could allow the Applicants to limit such a commitment and such an investment to low-income households and communities in a single state,while ignoring equal or greater need in our communities – as documented in our comments – and others throughout the proposed New Charter service territory.
We are therefore writing to urge the Commission, once again, to condition approval of the Transactions on a major investment by New Charter in direct outreach and training partnerships with community-based digital literacy programs in underserved communities throughout its proposed territory — at a level proportional to the amount that Charter seems to have agreed is reasonable for California.
View or download the Coalition’s letter to Chairman Wheeler.
(The following post was published today at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance blog.)
As the FCC nears a decision on the proposed merger between Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, digital inclusion advocates in California have negotiated a $32.5 million deal with “New Charter” that could support broadband adoption by hundreds of thousands of low income families in the state.
Now the big question is: Will the FCC make the California agreement a model for communities affected by the merger throughout the U.S.? Read more
Via a press release yesterday, Charter Communications has finally unveiled the low income broadband rate plan it promises to implement if its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks is approved by the FCC.
There were no surprises. The plan is exactly what CYC was hearing from Charter staffers months ago, before the merger case was filed — fairly cheap, very fast home broadband accounts for the families of K-12 students plus a limited group of low-income seniors. From the press release:
- What is the offer?
- Charter will offer 30/4 Mbps at $14.99 a month.
- Eligible customers will also be able to receive promotional video service and phone bundle offerings.
- The service comes with a modem at no extra cost and free self-install.
- Who can sign up?
- Families with students who participate in the National School Lunch Program.
- Seniors who are 65 and older who receive Supplemental Security Income* program benefits…
- When will the offering be available?
- The offer will become available within six months of the closing of the transactions [i.e. the merger].
- The offer will be fully implemented across Charter’s footprint within three years of close.
There’s no mention in the press release of any plans to invest in marketing, community outreach or training.
CYC and our partners in the Coalition for Broadband Equity have asked the FCC to push Charter to a) extend its proposed low-income plan to serve a broader range of low-income households, and b) agree to spend at least $50 million a year (2.5% of the combined 2014 residential marketing budgets of Charter and Time Warner) to promote the plan through community outreach and training partnerships.
* Please note: Eligibility for seniors is linked to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), not Social Security. SSI is a Federal income subsidy program for very low income people who are either 65 years or older, or disabled but lacking the work history to qualify for Social Security Disability. In Cleveland, for example, about 21,000 households received SSI income last year (according to the Census), but it’s likely the majority of those recipients weren’t senior citizens.
Comcast, the nation’s biggest home broadband provider, has told the FCC that efforts to promote low-income Internet adoption must go beyond discounted monthly rates to include “digital literacy and relevance training programs”.
In a letter posted on the FCC’s Lifeline modernization case documents site this morning, the Philadelphia-based cable giant recounts a November 13 meeting with senior FCC staff in which Comcast representatives “discussed lessons learned from Comcast’s Internet Essentials program”:
.. [R]esearch [from Internet Essentials]… show[s] the critical importance of addressing a bucket of digital literacy and relevancy issues in order to meaningfully tackle the broadband adoption gap. We highlighted that closing the digital divide is fundamentally dependent on a comprehensive approach that addresses digital relevance and digital literacy, the cost of computing equipment, and the cost of broadband service. We further discussed the second study of Internet Essentials customers by Dr. John B. Horrigan. Called Deepening Ties, it examined the evolution of customers from non-adopters to adopters. Perhaps the most striking finding of this report is that the real key to economic and personal empowerment through broadband adoption comes when you combine Internet access with formal training and education. For example, the study found that those who received formal digital training were 15 percentage points more likely to use the Internet to look for a job.
We emphasized that the success of Internet Essentials is due to its design as an integrated wrap-around solution that marries low-cost high-speed Internet access with training and education and access to a low-cost computer, and the reason that it is structured as a partnership between Comcast and thousands of school districts, libraries, elected officials, and nonprofit community partners.
In light of the research, we discussed that the Commission should promote the development of comprehensive broadband adoption programs. We further discussed that a way to do this would be to include in Lifeline reform a requirement that broadband providers accepting Lifeline support implement digital literacy and relevance training programs.
(Link to the Horrigan study added.)
Of course, this is exactly what CYC and our allies in the Coalition for Broadband Equity are asking the FCC to require of Charter Communications as a condition of approving its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable.
Thank you, Comcast.